Truly, Madly, Dangerously
Linda Winstead Jones

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Sadie walked toward the door. She was in no mood…“What are you doing here?”

Truman stepped back as she exited 119. Fresh air had never smelled so sweet.

“I thought I saw you head into this room,” Truman said.

“Please tell me you’re not stalking me,” she responded casually, not looking him in the eye.

“Of course not. That would be illegal.”

She’d had enough. “Truman McCain, what the hell do you want?”

Most men would take the hint and retreat. Sadie had gotten very good at telling a man to back off with nothing more than a look. Most of them didn’t just back off, they slunk away with their gaze pinned to their shoes. But not Truman. He held his ground. His smile didn’t go away. Not completely. “Dinner,” he finally said.

A date. He was actually asking her out on a date. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Nope. I never kid about such serious matters.”

Sadie didn’t beat around the bush, not anymore. She didn’t give lame excuses, she didn’t worry about hurting any man’s feelings. Did they have feelings? She thought not.

“You want to feed me?” she said sharply. “Fine. But I am not sleeping with you. Not now, not ever. So if this is your slick country-boy way of trying to worm your way into my bed, forget it. You had your shot, and you blew it.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

Truman didn’t seem at all offended or dismayed. “I thought we could have dinner and catch up. That’s all.” He leaned slightly toward her. “I don’t want to sleep with you, either, Sadie. You’re a lousy waitress, and you smell like something nasty I stepped in down by Ted Felton’s farm last week.” His smile never wavered. “Literally. Seven o’clock? I’ll pick you up.”

Oh, she was going to regret this. Quickly, she reasoned that if she was out for a few hours, she couldn’t watch the desk, field phone calls, or dish up grits and coffee. Besides, deep inside she was not entirely opposed to dinner with Truman.

“Seven-thirty,” she said.

Business done, she turned and walked away from Truman McCain. No, that was not a little bubble of excitement in her chest. There was nothing to get excited about. They’d eat, she’d ask questions about what had happened to him in the past eleven years—like she didn’t already know—and if Truman did dare to make a move she’d put him in his place so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him.

Sadie was actually smiling when she opened the bathroom door, but the smile didn’t last. The stench hit her so hard she reeled back a split second before she realized what she was seeing in the bathtub.

She backed away from the half-open door, her eyes on the body in the tub. A part of her mind logically catalogued the details. Male. Naked. Definitely dead, probably for hours. She didn’t recognize him, but then…would she, even if she knew who the man had once been? The face was distorted, and the neck…what was left of it…was…oh…

Another part of her mind screamed silently. Run.

After a few seconds, Sadie listened to that command. She turned and ran to the door. Truman wasn’t even halfway across the parking lot.

“McCain!” she shouted.

He stopped and turned, a half grin on his face. “You didn’t change your mind already, did you?” His smile faded, and he walked toward her with that slight limp that still surprised her, even though she knew what had happened. “What’s wrong?”

Sadie moved back, clearing the doorway so Truman could step into the room. “You need to call somebody,” she said softly. “There’s a dead man in the bathtub.”

His eyes snapped in that direction, and he moved past her. “Stay here,” he ordered in a soft voice.

As if she had to be told. She’d seen enough, thank you very much.

A glance was all Truman needed. He backed away, took Sadie’s arm, and led her outside. Grabbing the two-way radio that hung from his belt, he alerted dispatch of the situation. That done, he looked down at her without a smile, without even a speck of that McCain charm.

“Did you disturb anything?”

“Hell, Truman, I cleaned the room. All but the bathroom. I disturbed just about everything.”

He muttered the word that was very much on Sadie’s mind, a word that would have shocked Aunt Lillian out of her orthopedic shoes.

“I didn’t vacuum,” Sadie said. “And all the garbage I collected is in one bag.”


“Did you recognize him?” Sadie asked, curiosity pushing aside her early revulsion.

“No, but then I didn’t take a really close look.”

“I understand completely,” Sadie said honestly. Already she heard approaching sirens.

People didn’t get murdered in Garth, and from what little she’d seen she was pretty sure the man in room 119’s bathtub had not committed suicide. He’d been murdered, in a very ugly way.

Truman leaned slightly forward as the first patrol car pulled wildly into the parking lot. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” he whispered.

“What?” she snapped.

“Sadie Mae Harlow, don’t leave town.”

Chapter 2

After stripping out of the outfit she’d been wearing when she’d found the body and then showering vigorously, Sadie had gladly changed into clothing she was more comfortable in. A pair of black pants that had a little stretch in them, sturdy boots, a leather jacket and a shoulder holster, where her pistol now rested. After what she’d seen today, she needed her weapon close.

She was still tempted to head down to the bank and insist on seeing Hearn. Two days was a ridiculous amount of time to wait to see a loan officer at a small town bank. There had been a framed photo of the man hanging in the outer office, where Sadie had done battle with the receptionist. Hearn was sixtyish, with a full head of gray hair and pale-blue eyes. Not bad looking for an older man, but he had that cocky smile that men who consider themselves better than everyone else can’t seem to wipe from their faces, no matter how hard they try. He was a VP, or some such, which didn’t mean much in such a small bank. He couldn’t possibly be booked until Thursday afternoon.

Besides, she needed something to take her mind off finding the body. She’d seen a lot of bad stuff, working for the PI agency in Birmingham and then for Benning, but she’d never run across a body that had been stewing for hours. She would never forget that smell, or the complete and utter deadness of the man in the tub. There had been no life left, not even a hint that he had been a living breathing man not so long ago. She shuddered and pushed the feeling aside. She couldn’t afford weakness of any kind, not in her profession.

She still had no idea who the man in Room 119 might be. Conrad Hudson, who had checked the man in late last night, had already left for the day when the body was discovered. The sheriff had sent a deputy—not Truman, but some horribly young and enthusiastic boy—to Conrad’s house to speak with him, but no one was home. Since Conrad spent every spare moment fishing, he was probably on the lake somewhere. He’d be found. Eventually.

The name in the register was a suspicious ‘Joe Smith,’ and the man had paid for the room in cash.

Drugs, probably, Sadie reasoned. A drug deal had gone bad and Smith, or whoever he was, had been murdered because of it. She would have to have a talk with Lillian about renting her rooms to just anyone who came along. Lillian was so naive, she probably never considered that anything illegal might go on at her motel. It was a family place, a simple motel that had seen good years and lean. Once a bad element moved in, it would be tough to save the Yellow Rose Motel.

Truman had taken a brief statement from Sadie at the scene and he’d taken control of the evidence, basically keeping everyone out until the proper team arrived to catalog everything. The Alabama Bureau of Investigation would be called in, since neither the city of Garth nor the county had the resources to investigate a murder. Those investigators would want to question her soon, but while she waited she might as well see about getting the reason for her trip out of the way.

Maybe Hearn would agree to allow Sadie to repay her aunt’s loan without letting Lillian know. It would take Sadie a few days to get her hands on that much cash, but it could be done.

“Sadie!” Jennifer ran up the stairs, shouting as she entered the living quarters.

Sadie stepped into the hallway. “What’s wrong now?” There was always a crisis of some sort around here. As long as it wasn’t another body…

“The ABI investigator, he wants to talk to you,” Jennifer said breathlessly.

“He’s here?”
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